My name is Richard Pynas and I will be guest blogging on this site on occasion and to start with the reds of Manchester get the treatment – let me know what you think, various options available and noted at the end of this blog – enjoy the read.
This season started with an air of optimism for Manchester United fans. We’d made four, what looked like good signings that would improve the
starting 11 and appointed a manager with three Premier League and two Champions League winners medals. The season even started well and many pundits were suggesting it could be a two horse race for the title between the two Manchester clubs, United looked to be coming though their three year hiatus from the top of English football. Since then United have apparently gone into crisis. Pundits no longer think they’ll finish in the top four never mind the top two, the press and opposition fans are acting like giddy school kids poking fun at the fat kid again and even some United fans have lost faith already. So where has it all gone wrong?
A SLOW DECLINE
First things first as Peter Kay once told us. Contrary to popular belief the problems all started under Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. Ask most proper United fans and they will tell you that the team was in decline from around 2009 when we were probably the 2nd best team in Europe. The last signings that had nailed down a regular place were Carrick, Vidic and Evra in the summer of 2005 and January of 2006 respectively and everybody, apart from the man that mattered it seemed, recognised that United needed a world class midfielder, a world class attacking midfielder and a world class striker but the right players didn’t come. In fact we needed to sign what was only ever going to be a stop gap in Robin Van Persie in order to wrestle the title back from City for what is our 20th title and last to date in 2013.
DOUBLE ACT FROM THE GODS
Sir Alex Ferguson then left the club but there was another outgoing at the end of the 2012/13 season too, David Gill. In the preceding seasons Fergie and Gill had formed one of the best chief executive / manager relationships in football. Fergie was, well, Fergie and Gill was a skilled negotiator of transfer deals with wealth of experience, contacts and respect in the game. This was the first mistake, letting these two leave at the same time. The board should have sat both men down and asked them to consider the club they both love and decide between themselves which one was going to stay on for another year. I believe this would have eased the transition into the new era and lessened the impact this momentous time would have had on the club. The hiring of David Moyes was also a farce because, and I appreciate that Sir Alex should have been consulted, but to forego any proper recruitment process was just ridiculous. If there had been a proper recruitment process then more suitable candidates would surely have been identified, Jürgen Klopp would have been my favourite but Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho would also have been available for example.
A NEW MAN AT THE HELM
Next was the ill-fated Moyes reign. Now I don’t believe David Moyes is a bad manager but he made some truly shocking mistakes. The first and the one that probably had the most to do with him eventually losing his job was his restructuring of the coaching staff. A manager usually brings in his number 2 and that is fair enough but to replace some of the best and most experienced coaches in the world at that level with inexperienced ones was nothing short of idiotic. The club had gone through enough change in losing the best manager in the world of the previous 30 years and arguably the best chief executive at the same time so needed some level heads, people who’d been there and done it. This left an inexperienced chief executive albeit one with the midas touch in the commercial world and an inexperienced manager at that level to try and bring in the players required to keep United at the top and inexperienced coaches at that level to coach them. This, rather predictably, turned into a debacle with target after target passing them by with possibly the most frustrating one being a seemingly done deal for Thiago Alcantara ending with the player going to Bayern Munich instead. United ended up with one player, Marouane Fellaini for £4m more than his buyout clause, disgrace!
After Moyes came Louis Van Gaal. I, along with many other United fans were quite excited about this appointment. He came with a pedigree of winning trophies and was credited, along with Johan Cruyff with transforming Barcelona into the free flowing side they are today and many an ex player into world class managers, including Pep Guardiola. His ‘philosophy’ never really materialised though and if it did it must have been a philosophy of slow passing, creating no chances and consistently getting caught out by counter attacks. Perhaps more disturbing however was the fact he had CCTV installed on the training ground and there were rumours of emails with read receipts being sent detailing what each player had done wrong in the previous match. There were long meetings where every kick of the previous game was painstakingly analysed and strict instructions of what you can and can’t do on the football pitch with creativity strictly stifled. The punishment for falling foul of any of this ‘philosophy’ was ostracisation; just ask Varela, Borthwick-Jackson, Wilson and Pereira amongst others. Imagine you worked in a place that filmed you while you worked, pointed out your shortcomings every day, made you stay after work to sit though hours and hours of analysis of your previous weeks work, picking out every little mistake and prevented you from expressing your creativity. It would affect your morale and the morale of the whole team and I think you could really see that in the body language and the football played by the United players last season.
PORTUGUESE MAN O’WAR
That brings me onto Mourinho’s reign. Now before I start I just want to be clear that I have never been a huge fan of Jose Mourinho. I quite liked him in his first stint at Chelsea but some of his antics during his time at Real and his second term at Chelsea were appalling. So he would not have been my 1st choice of manager but now he is here I will back him until it is impossible to back him anymore, just as I did with Moyes and LVG. There was excitement over his appointment amongst other United fans however which was heightened by the fact we signed four players who everybody thought would improve our first 11 and help us return to challenging for the title. The start to his reign at United has been somewhat disappointing though, there have been some abject performances to say the least and Mourinho doesn’t seem his old self. The Watford, Chelsea and Fenerbache games are probably the stand out stinkers and out of them I would say the Fenerbache game was the worst, simply because I don’t think 3-1 and 4-0 score lines accurately reflected the balance of the play in the Watford and Chelsea games. The new signings have also not got going, Ibrahimovic has been quiet after a good start, Pogba is still finding his feet after the huge money move and the one I was most excited to see, Mkhitaryan, hasn’t really played. The only signing that has significantly improved us in any way is Bailly who has been a bit of a revelation so far, his recent absence through injury has been a big loss. So talk of a crisis has started again, fuelled by the media, seized on by opposition fans (to be expected) and bought into by some United fans, weary from three years of abject mediocrity.
ONE STEP FORWARD ONE STEP BACK
But is there a crisis? Well the reason I started out by going through the issues of the previous three years and beyond is that I wanted to remind us of the problems Mourinho has had to deal with. He has the task of changing the mentality and culture embedded during the previous three years under what was, at times, quite an oppressive regime and I think it’s unfair to expect him to have done that in four months. Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool is being held up as the example of how to do it but people seem to be forgetting that they finished 8th and without a trophy last year and he was in charge for half that season, so it doesn’t happen overnight. I would also argue that there has already been a marked improvement on last year. We have had some good games namely, the first three, City (the second half) Leicester, Stoke and Burnley (when it would have been a cricket score but for man of the match goalkeeping performances), Fenerbache at home and Swansea. The encouraging thing about these games, as well as some of the not so great games for that matter, is that we’ve created lots of chances whereas we struggled to create anything at all under LVG despite consistently dominating possession. I also think, with a couple of exceptions, we have looked a lot less vulnerable to the counter attack, something which has been a major achilles heel for the last couple of years so I really do think we are improving all over the pitch.
MOU NEEDS TIME
So my message to United fans is this, Believe! Give the manager time because he has won the Premier League three times and the Champions league twice and that would suggest he knows what he’s doing. I believe he, ‘doesn’t seem himself’, because he wants to stay at United for the long term and he knows that his past antics will lead to a very short reign at Old Trafford. I also believe that, despite what pundits and opposition fans would have you believe, United do not have a poor team; De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Shaw, Carrick, Pogba, Martial, Mata, Rashford and Ibrahimovic is a starting 11 that should be capable of giving any team in Europe a game. With backup players including Blind, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Mkhitaryan, Lingard and Rooney plus some of the quality young players, a decent squad is available to the new manager. There is no doubting that we need at least a couple more players, particularly a right back and a centre back, probably another forward as well, but I believe we have the basis of a very good side already. Once Pogba gets going, and you have to believe he will, Mkhitaryan gets going, and you have to hope he will too and the manager shakes the rotten culture, I believe it will click. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later and we’ll finish the season strongly, but we have to give the manager a little time and try to remember that the last three years were not down to him. Of course there is always the chance that it won’t click but when I look at what I think we need to find more than anything else, confidence, fight and passion, then look at Mourinho’s previous teams, I now believe we have the right man in charge.
So what do think – agree with Richard or are Manchester United basically a busted flush a long way away from reaching the heights they did under Sir Alex Ferguson.
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